Tag Archives: autobiography

FGC #575 Big Bird’s Egg Catch

The giving birdAccording to contemporary evolutionary theory, our modern-day birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs. For the longest time, dinosaurs were assumed to merely be the big brothers to our current crop of not-so-terrible thunder lizards, but a recent spat of scientists being attacked by antagonistic pigeons has given rise to the theory that there is a direct link between your Jurassic Park’s raptors and… well… raptors. Huh. Maybe we should have been able to figure that one out earlier. But, regardless of whether or not the Dinosaucers should have had feathers, one thing is obvious: there is a clear and undeniable link between dinosaurs and birds.

So the link between Big Bird and Barney the Dinosaur is just a matter of evolution, right? Two beloved childhood stars, both literally built to appeal to and educate children. Both sing songs, teach lessons, and share an evolutionary bloodline. On a genetic level, they are practically the same creature.

Except there is one major evolutionary difference: Big Bird is fondly remembered and supported to this day, and Barney the Dinosaur was always universally loathed.

Why? It’s all about love.

Look, we all appreciate Sesame Street as some shining bastion of children’s programming, but, to examine a quote from one of its creators, Big Bird’s chosen street had vaguely sinister sounding origins. Sesame Street was to be a show that would “master the addictive qualities of television and do something good with them”. It is great that there is that “do something good” caveat there, but ignore that little bit, and it almost sounds like Cookie Monster was invented by a supervillain attempting to take over the world. And, regardless of intentions, Sesame Street did take over the world. Sesame Street is a global institution, appearing in as many countries as there are palette swaps for Big Bird. And it is all based on one simple concept: learning should be fun for kids. Education does not all have to be stodgy teachers explaining math in a monotone, it can also be obsessive-compulsive vampires and cranky trash people.

Grab it!But, as time has gone on, Sesame Street has also become a place where children can learn from puppets how to be more human. Ever since the Snuffleupagus snafu of the 70s, Sesame Street has paid careful attention to guaranteeing the children of yesterday and today not only know how to count cookies, but also how to cope with a cruel and uncaring world of grouches. Sesame Street is not just about goofy songs and guest stars that are comfortable making eye contact with muppets, it is also about addressing children from all walks of life (those born into families both amazing and dreary), and teaching them that they are going to get through this world. Sesame Street is not universal for every child (how could it be?), but it does do its best accommodate as many children as possible, and express that the world may not be perfect, but they are loved.

And then there’s Barney. Barney just straight up says “I love you” like a jackass. And he does it over and over for every episode! What the hell, dinosaur?!

Barney & Friends, a children’s television show that premiered in 1988, had a similar origin to Sesame Street. It was created to fill a gap, but, while Sesame Street was broadly established to appeal to preschoolers, Barney was aiming for more of the kindergarten set. His creator, Sheryl Leach, believed that her son had outgrown anything available on television and video, so she set out to fashion a singing dinosaur that could entertain children of specific ages. After an initial VHS splash, the concept was graduated from direct-to-video edutainment to a television series in 1992. And from there, Barney & Friends became an American phenomenon, with the purple dinosaur singing everywhere from your television to the toy aisle to the Daytime Emmys. If you were exposed to a child of a certain age in the 90’s, you were exposed to Barney. And his songs would be stuck in your head for the rest of the day…

It's a sunny dayOh, and if you didn’t have a kid around that demanded to see Barney, you were probably familiar with the creature, too. Barney had a bit of a… negative following. Or, put another way, to my knowledge, this is the first time I am covering something on this blog that had a roleplaying book dedicated to a “jihad” to destroy it. Barney was almost universally loathed. Yes, of course there were “kids”, preteens, and other sarcastic malcontents that made up “funny” songs about barbequing the purple dinosaur’s head, but the whole antipathy enterprise leaked into adult entertainment, too. Remember The Critic? An obvious descendent of The Simpsons, and one of the few dittos of the era to actually be funny? A full half of its fifth episode was given over to an extended parody of Barney the Dinosaur (Humphrey the Hippo… why do I remember that unbidden?). This was a primetime show! For adults! Mostly! And they dipped into the “Barney sucks” well immediately. And if you needed something less animated, Barkley was dunking (literally) on Barney on Saturday Night Live. Barney was an object of scorn everywhere for a few years, and people were able to massively profit off the previously mentioned RPG sourcebook based on destroying Barney, or ersatz appearances like Mr. Huggles in a 2007 Xbox game (Monster Madness, incidentally). And more than a few Youtube careers were launched by involving “a Barney” in one way or another…

So this brings us back to a simple question: Why? There have always been Sesame Street parodies, but none possessed the same consistent vitriol we all saw in the Barney universe. Why was Barney so universally, consistently despised?

Maybe it’s just because he loved too much.

Go Barney!Barney is supposed to be a big, purple manifestation of unconditional love. He loves you, you love him, we’re a great big family. Barney is great for kids, because his unconditional love of the audience tells children that there are people out there that will love you no matter what. That is a great moral! But, to anyone over the age of five, it sounds an awful lot like bullshit. In fact, that very bullshit is likely a significant reason why Barney was so loathed. A generation of kids that had just experienced He-Man, G.I. Joe, and Ninja Turtles was now seeing the next generation (or their little siblings) being influenced by Barney the Lover. And, whether anyone really understood what was happening, they all recognized this… deception. Barney did not love you. Barney did not even know you. And neither did Prince Adam of Eternia, Sargent Slaughter, or Leonardo, but they all took time out of their day to give you some Sailor Says knowledge and sell a few toys for a half hour a day. They didn’t know you, they didn’t care about you, but they made you think they cared about you. And you, a stupid kid, bought it, literally, every time you waddled into Toys R’ Us. And an entire generation was just starting to realize this. He-Man had retired. The Ninja Turtles were losing shelf space to the Power Rangers. Our lovers had left us, and here was a new sucker ready to be tricked by the latest dinosaur of love. He’ll leave you like they all left us, Little Timmy! Do not love Barney! He doesn’t really love you! Flush his body down the potty while you can!

Just not goodThat is the difference between Big Bird and Barney. Despite a similar evolution, they are both the products of very different times. Big Bird loves you, but it is not his whole identity. Barney exists in a world wherein he cannot conceive of being unloved, and, while that works for some ages, it does not for people starting to understand all their heroes were little more than toy commercials. And, as a result, to this day, Big Bird continues to star in any number of counting-based videogames, while Barney never escaped the Sega Genesis. Love did not keep Barney alive, and it never could. In our modern world, Big Bird still stalks the Earth, while Barney is extinct. A big, purple evolutionary dead end.

… Or maybe just nobody liked his songs. Man, I’m not a paleontologist.

FGC #575 Big Bird’s Egg Catch

  • System: Atari 2600. It’s got pretty good graphics for an Atari title!
  • Number of players: Two player alternating. Likely assuming their audience were literal preschoolers, that alternating happens pretty damn often. You don’t have to wait for your turn for long.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is a game for babies… and surprisingly well-balanced for multiple ages. The lower-difficulty levels see a Big Bird that automatically magnetizes to where an egg falls, but later stages allow the player to more precisely position the bird so as to more effectively fail at catching an egg. Oh, and the chutes get more zig-zaggy. And invisible. That makes things complicated!
  • Where did they go?You are in Control: Big Bird’s Egg Catch was built for the Atari Kid’s Controller. That controller was, essentially, a num pad. It was basically only built for educational/egg-based games. But since it had more buttons and was more complicated than your typical Atari “paddle”, it was kind of ironic that this became the “Kid’s Controller” and not “Accountant’s Delight”.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: Many of “my” Atari games were games my grandfather found interesting (like Pac-Man) that I incidentally got to play. But I want to say Big Bird’s Egg Catch was the first videogame ever distinctly purchased for “Little Bobby”. Either that or my grandfather really liked gigantic birds.
  • How about that Barney Genesis Game? Barney’s Hide & Seek Game (yes, “Game” is part of the title) is basically a platforming title wherein you find marginally hidden children (and one child dinosaur). As much as it would make sense, It is not a “find in the picture” game, and it definitely controls like a Mario title… albeit a Mario title wherein our hero is trapped inside of a bulky dinosaur costume. Barney steers like a drunk truck is what I am saying. Regardless, it is not nearly as fun as catching eggs with Big Bird, but it… uh… exists? Technically? I guess it officially has significant (for the time) voice acting, so that’s nice.
  • Fly awayDid you know? Barney’s “I Love You” song was used for psychological torture at Guantanamo Bay detention camp. That’s the fact. No moral.
  • Would I play again: Big Bird’s Egg Catch could work as some kind of cell phone title that is played for like ten minutes while waiting for your shots. But am I going to break out the 2600 to play it some more? Nah.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Contra for the NES! We are going from loving birds and dinosaurs to extremely unloving commandos! Please look forward to it!

FGC #554 Pokémon Go

An abridged timeline of events in my life related to Pokémon Go.

7/16/16

Started playing Pokémon Go. I had apprehensions about playing a game I damn well knew I was going to find addicting, so I didn’t sign up at launch. However, after a number of local businesses asked me how they could capitalize on the “Pokémon craze”, I figured I had to jump on the bandwagon. I choose Team Mystic, as Articuno is best bird.

7/17/16

Found Questionable Statue, the best dang Pokéstop in the whole of the game. Good lil’ statue there.

It's a good stop

7/19/16

Published this nonsense, clearly already hooked by the “fad”.

8/21/16

Evolved a Magikarp into a Gyrados for the first time. There is plenty of water around my local play area, but it’s still worth noting for finally scoring 400 candies.

8/22/16

There was a Snorlax on the boardwalk. It was my first, and, as this was before the radar in P-Go was precise, I literally ran all over town trying to find its exact location in time. I succeeded, but I may have parkoured off a building to do so.

9/11/16

Evolved a Dratini into a Dragonair into a Dragonite. This may have been one of the last Pokémon of Generation 1 to earn its final form in my ‘dex.

6/25/17

Questionable Statue graduated from being a Pokéstop to a Pokégym at some point around here. Very important for my favorite stop to be upgraded.

It's a good gym

10/27/17

Found an errant Sandshrew party on the beach. Pretty sure we celebrated until dawn.

Party time!

12/12/17

I catch Tiny Dancer, a Kirilia that becomes my walking buddy for 352 nonconsecutive kilometers (as of publishing this article).

2/24/18

At my second Pokémon Go Community Day, I encounter Pokémon Fight Club (as chronicled here), and have my first successful Pokémon raid. I get by with a little help from other nerds.

3/25/18

Prompted by interest in having another big raid day (as it was the third ever Pokémon Go Community Day), I hit the boardwalk to hopefully find another “fight club”. I found a raid party, and noticed there was exactly one Team Instinct member in a lobby that was crowded with people from Team Valor and Team Mystic. I asked out loud, “Who’s the Instinct?” and a cute blond replied she was the odd one out. She got a shiny Lugia out of the raid, and I had apparently just met my future wife.

4/15/18

Mareep Community Day was rainy, cold, and altogether miserable. Despite the weather that was only hospitable to electric sheep, there were enough of us to tackle a Latios raid (or maybe Latias. I always get those two confused). One of the people in the raid was the Team Instinct player from the previous month. Given the weather was unpleasant, I asked her if she would like to go grab a coffee to warm up and catch Pokémon from somewhere slightly less freezing. It was super effective.

4/18/18

I caught a Mew on my birthday after finally mastering the excellent curveball throw technique. Exceptional little mirage present.

5/28/18

Participated in my first EX Raid and caught a Mewtwo. It was at Questionable Statue. It was with a certain Team Instinct trainer. It is remembered fondly.

Don't ask my wife about this.  She will laugh.

9/11/18

Caught Corsola in Florida. Definitely did not travel alone.

10/22/18

Caught a bunch of giant Magikarp, and earned a medal. Playing by the ocean for the win!

11/14/18

Finally reached Level 40 after, what, two years at this point? This is primarily because I had performed approximately 10,000 raids with that Team Instinct Trainer.

11/26/18

This BS happened.

Gimme some coins

Occasionally I forget that Pokémon Go is a game designed to make money, and not a freemium soul-mate finding app.

1/27/19

Went on my first cruise with that Team Instinct Trainer. Found that there are gyms that are apparently only accessible by sea.

I want to live there

2/8/19

There is confirmation Pokémon Go is still a thing in the real world.

5/10/19

Back when going to the movies was a viable option, we saw Detective Pikachu at its premiere. We were not the only people in the audience playing Pokémon Go during the previews.

6/14/19

We visit Chicago for Pokémon Go Fest, a national gathering for Pokemon Go players (or just a bunch of nerds that wanted to catch a Pachirisu). We spend the weekend visiting landmarks, museums, and bizarro pizza dispensaries. There was a lot of walking accompanying the inordinate number of Pokélures around the city.

7/21/19

During yet another Community Day (we haven’t missed one together yet), I catch the horrible Shiny Mudkip Zero. It is a blight on my life I will never escape.

I can't quit you

8/25/19

I catch a particularly good Roselia deep in Mexico during a cruise that, thanks to a mega-hurricane, goes on a little too long. In the end, everything worked out fine, and we made out better with Hurricane Laura than so many people that lost their homes, but it was a bit dicey there for a while. At least I had accumulated some completed tasks so I could still have my research breakthroughs amidst such strife. It’s the little things that keep you sane.

9/20/19

For our trip to Pokémon Go Safari in Montreal, Canada, I printed out a “wanted” poster for a foreign Pokémon, and pinned it to my dear Instinct Trainer’s backpack. This attracted the attention of a kindly gentleman from Japan that didn’t speak a lick of English, but had a similar “can you trade this Pokémon” sign. Pokémon trading crosses language barriers rather effectively.

Gimme

12/30/19

Or maybe it doesn’t, because there is somehow a stop in Poland named “Optimus Prime”. That is clearly not the robot in disguise we all know and love!

This cannot be right

1/7/20

I catch a shiny fighting/psychic type at the Olympic Coliseum in Greece. This is vaguely appropriate.

2/5/20

I leave a Pokémon in a Polish Gym in December, and I wind up earning a gold medal as a result of it not being kicked out until early February. I’m pretty sure my happiny did not have any problems with customs, but she was surprisingly cold when she got back to the States.

2/29/20

This happened.

Go Goggle Bob

It happened right in front of Questionable Statue, mere feet from where we first met for a Lugia raid nearly two years prior. Amusingly enough, that picture was taken by a child who was, of course, on the boardwalk playing Pokémon Go.

4/19/20

As COVID rages and people were afraid to leave their homes, my Instinct Trainer and I take the opportunity to conquer as many local gyms as possible. Hey, we don’t have to interact with a soul to walk around the neighborhood. Blissey takes over the town in the name of Team Mystic.

She's all over the place

6/21/20

The rare Double Arlo.

This hardly happens

9/20/20

I am awarded a medal for defeating 1,000 Team Rocket trainers. I am truly a hero, but I would like to thank the recent “local” Pokémon Go Fest for granting me so many targets.

11/20/20

I state these words to my Team Instinct Trainer:

Looks delishI’m a giant nerd. Pikachu is apparently a featured guest at our reception, so I don’t think anyone needs to be reminded of that. But as a result of being a giant nerd, I have absorbed the stories of roughly 5,000 different movies, videogames, and graphic novels. I’ve seen so many super heroes save so many worlds it’s kind of ridiculous. And that means I’ve also seen so many heroes die for the people they love. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen Superman kick the bucket for Lois Lane at least six different ways. And all of these stories, it’s always the same: the hero make what we’re told is the ultimate sacrifice, they die for the person they love.

I’m going to vow right here before man, woman, and children that should not be watching this stream, that that is bullshit. I’m not going to die for you. I’m going to live for you.

I’m not going to take a bullet for you, fight some malevolent monster for you, or die in the vacuum of space for you. I can’t vow that I’m going to do something so super for you. But I can vow that I am going to do the dishes, mow the lawn, and take out the trash. I vow that I’ll go for walks with you, even when the weather is on the Polish side of things. I vow that we will talk, and that I will always be honest with you, and you will always know what I’m thinking. I vow that, above everything else, I will make you happy, to make sure you can be happy, and to do everything I can to see a smile on your face. And when things aren’t cheerful, during any bad times that may be ahead (like, you know, in the middle of a global pandemic), I vow that, while I might not be able to make problems go away with some kind of special move, I will do everything I can to make sure we get through it together. In our world, every storm has an end. Every night has a new morning. And I vow to be with you every morning from this day forward.

I vow to live for you, Trish, and I may not be a superhero or keyblade master or whatever, but I am a man that vows to love you forever.

I also caught a Tepig.

11/23/20

Despite the fact that the previously transcribed vows were broadcast across the world, not a single person seemed to notice the Chrono Trigger reference that was, like, right there. This doesn’t have anything to do with Pokémon Go, but it is nonetheless depressing.

11/30/20

The Pokémon Go Beyond “expansion” is released. Before informing my wife of this update, I remind her she is currently working from home, and needs to keep perspective on what needs to be completed, as we are adults. Fifteen minutes after we have this conversation, she is still in the beanbag chair, and still trying to complete as many Beyond tasks as possible without leaving the room.

12/11/20

I publish an article that is apparently meant to be sentimental, but mostly just talks about Pokémon. Or is it the other way around? C’est la vie.

FGC #554 Pokémon Go

  • System: Mobile, so get your Droids and Apples out.
  • Bulba!Number of players: It’s a generally solitary experience, but there is 2 player battling, and 2 player trading. And there are 20 person raids. And you’re kinda sorta playing with everyone on Earth. Let’s split the difference and call it two player like its Pokémon brethren.
  • Did you catch ‘em all: There has been no point in this game’s existence that I have had every available Pokémon. I have every Pokémon I can catch locally, but regionals have often escaped me. There was one time immediately after Pokémon Go Fest 2019 when I had every Pokémon except Uxie, but that’s as close as I ever got.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I have been to Athens, Greece once in my life. Three days after I flew out of there, Niantic released a regional Pokémon that exists only in Greece and Egypt. I have never been more mad at a videogame.
  • Goggle Bob Fact #2: I play this game every day. I take frequent (nigh daily, according to weather) walks with my wife while playing this game. I have played a lot of videogames in my time, but, if all hours are tabulated, this might be the videogame I’ve played the absolute most in my entire life, even if it is generally “passive”. And that’s saying something!
  • SPLASHFavorite Pokémon (Go edition): Machamp has been a big, burly beast from day one. Conkeldurr came for the throne, and he’s technically better, but I don’t have six maxed out Conkeldurrs, now do I?
  • Did you know? Playing Pokémon Go anywhere near a large body of water always generates some weird spawns. Water Pokémon you might expect, but Cacnea? I am so tired of seeing that guy.
  • Would I play again: I do.

What’s next? Vaguely related to events mentioned in this article, I’m taking a week off from totally new content. But! I’m going to be updating my World of Final Fantasy Let’s Play here on the site, so if you haven’t seen that elsewhere, it’s new to you! So come back Monday for some fun times with funko fantasies. Please look forward to it!

The Champion

FGC #553 Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

Let's dash!Let’s talk about nerd love, acceptance, and solid gold cars.

I am a nerd. What’s more, I have pretty much always been a nerd. I’ve never been into pocket protectors, statistics, or even wore glasses all that often, but, to the average human being, I have long been a shining example of nerddom. And it’s not my fault! It’s just what I’m interested in! I like videogames. I like robots (and draw a distinction between “giant robots” “regular sized robots that fight” and “robots that occasionally transform into dinosaurs”). I was generally academically gifted in school. I won an award in junior high for “most likely to succeed with computers”. I never even planned to go into the computer field! I wanted to be a grade school teacher for some reason!

But, if we’re talking about junior high anyway, I may as well note that the first woman I ever “asked out” responded by dramatically feigning barfing and being out-and-out offended. That… leaves an impression.

Look, I want to be clear on one point: I am a handsome dude. For someone getting damn near forty, I have my hair, my figure, and a certain je ne sais quoi that brings all the boys to the yard. And, given I’ve had the same haircut since first grade, I pretty much have had the same basic thing going on since I was six. Issues arise, however, in the basic world of fashion. Despite Nintendo’s attempts to make me style savvy, I’ve never quite had an aptitude there, so I want to say I perhaps do no blame my potential suitor for reacting poorly when I was eleven. I mean, I had a goddamn ponytail, and I somehow thought that was a good thing. But, at the time, I didn’t quite understand that I shouldn’t wear sweatpants every damned day, so I thought there was something wrong with me. That thinking continued until… let’s see here… probably sometime last week? It was a while.

And my first real girlfriend didn’t help. A few short years after my first, disastrous attempt at romance, some lucky gal finally said yes, and we were off to the races (this is a desperate metaphor attempting to remotely tie-in today’s featured game earlier in the article. We’ll get there, folks!). Now, in this case, I was high on my own supply of raw ego. I was a high school freshman, she was a sophomore. I was dating an older woman. I was a goddamn stud. Go babies!And, even if the “relationship” only wound up lasting like two week and involved about as much physical interaction as an online game of Pong, it still set me over the moon that someone theoretically wanted me. Goggle Bob! Who did finally cut off that ponytail a year before! Probably a coincidence! But this is not to say all was well with the world. My dear girlfriend had aims to make me “more normal”, and she literally stated that she would go through my closet and get rid of “all those videogame t-shirts”.

First of all, Jesse, I didn’t have that many videogame t-shirts. Some were simply related to computers in general! And secondly, I got that Final Fantasy 7 shirt as part of a promotion for preordering, and it is limited edition and I am not ever going to see another one. I don’t think this relationship is going to work, Little Miss Trendy. There’s only room enough for one blonde in this relationship, and he carries a Buster Sword.

(Ha ha just kidding, she totally dumped my nerdy ass. But things definitely would have come to a head if she hadn’t!)

But this kind of thing continued practically through all of my teenage relationships. Even when I dated nerds! I had at least two girlfriends that were avowed Pokémon fans, but still reacted to my general hobby with tolerance at best, revulsion at worst. I often offered the second player controller in these games (whenever available, I mean, if I’m playing Ocarina of Time, you’re going to have to wait, babe), and I did my best to share my passions in socially acceptable ways (I very rarely publically embarrassed us in an effort to get the attention of an Electronics Boutique employee), but it always seemed for naught. It wasn’t about not liking a particular game, console, or genre; it seemed to be a simple “I don’t like videogames”. And this is an issue! I like videogames a lot!

We can do thisAnd it’s hard to explain to someone that doesn’t have an “unpopular” hobby how this works. Like, you, dear reader, you like music, right? Like listening to tunes? Maybe you listen to the radio when you’re in the car? And I’m not saying you like the same music as someone else, you’re obviously allowed to like pop music as much as jazz-techno fusion or whatever suits your fancy. But imagine, if you would, the moment you start dating someone, you’re cruising along in your finely crafted automobile (obviously a sweet 1960 classic Edsel Pacer), listening to the radio, and your significant other doesn’t simply say, “Oh, I don’t like this song, let’s change the station,” they say, “Oh, I don’t like music. Let’s sit in silence and never listen to music again.” And every time they hop in the car, and you’ve left the radio on from a previous, solo trip, they comment, “Oh, you were listening to that again. Why do you keep doing that?” And, tell me I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that, after dealing with that for a little while, you would, you know, go insane. And that’s not a great outcome for a relationship!

And that was the end result of 90% of my high school relationships.

What I’m saying here is that I completely understand people that think “girls don’t game”. It is wrong. It is wholly inaccurate. I even knew (or should have known) it was wrong when I was friggen’ eight years old, as the first person that showed me King’s Quest and the fabulous world of PC gaming was my (male) friend’s older sister. She played videogames! I just didn’t want to date her. None of the women I wanted to date played videogames, so, obviously, women didn’t play videogames (Yes, I was the Socrates of my high school marching band, thank you for noticing). The women that I wanted to date/actually dated acted like “gaming” was an activity roughly on par with drinking human blood (come to think of it, they were much cooler with vampires than gamers), so I internalized for a long time that women hated videogames. Could there be another explanation? Never! They sneered at Xenogears! The War & Peace of our generation! The only explanation for that must be gender-based universal loathing.

GLOMPAnd I assumed this was a wholly accurate assessment until I was in college. I dated another woman, and I assumed, like in many previous relationships, she barely tolerated my videogame addiction. She watched me play Metroid Fusion, Pokémon Ruby, and Mega Man Battle Network on the Gameboy Advance that was practically glued to my hands, and I simply assumed she was, at best, abiding my hobby. It never even crossed my weary mind that maybe playing a system that precluded a second player even existing was making an impact on whether or not we would play together. I just hunched over a Gameboy on the couch on a Saturday morning, poking at my beep bop machine, and assumed my beau was annoyed because her lady parts secreted some hormone that hated those darn games. There was no other explanation.

And then, on Valentine’s Day, she didn’t get me chocolate. She bought me Mario Kart: Double Dash!! (1,200 words to acknowledge the game of the day! New record!). And we had a game we could play together.

And damned if we didn’t play that game together for months.

Mario Kart Double Dash!! doesn’t get enough credit for being inordinately multiplayer. Yes, there are the Mario Kart-mandated two player versus racing and battle modes. And we’ve got versus four players out of the box, because the N64/Gamecube era of Nintendo absolutely loved four player options. And, even better, this Mario Kart included some kind of crazy Gamecube LAN option, so you could network together a bunch of systems, and get a tournament going with, like, a hajillion playerscitation needed. But all of those possibilities paled in comparison to the one mode that I saw continually from the moment I popped that little disc into my playbox: two player cooperative. For the first time in the franchise, two players could control one kart, and both could have input for one racer. The controls were simple: one player drove, the other was responsible for items, and the two could switch at any time. This created an incredibly balanced situation, as two players could alternate duties, or, if someone wasn’t as confident, take refuge in a “Tails mode” like situation where there is participation, but the responsibility of earning that trophy falls squarely on one player’s shoulders. So, in other words, it’s a two player mode that is truly perfect for experts and novices alike.

And it’s great for a boy that has been playing videogames continuously since toddlerhood, and a girl that is trying to understand said boy’s obsession.

STOMPNot to dash any dreams of a romantic ending here (that’s for Friday), but this is in no way the story of how I affirmed the love of my life over Mario Kart. Boy and Girl broke up with time to spare before the following Valentine’s Day (and it certainly wasn’t because Boy was a cheapskate and didn’t feel like buying another gift in a relationship that was already DOA, because Boy is clearly blameless in this situation). And, just in case you thought this whole tale was heading in that direction, this is not the story of how Boy thus realized his true love was videogames all along, and how he now sleeps in bed every night curled around his precious copy of Chrono Trigger. No, this is a story about acceptance. This is a story about how someone can accept you for who you are, even the parts of you they might not understand.

Look, I am pretty damn lucky. I like my birth gender. I am attracted to “the opposite” sex, and members of said sex that are traditionally, conventionally attractive. I’m white. Basically, what I’m saying is that if I show up to a family dinner with a date, I don’t have to spend the entire meal explaining how my choices are valid, and I’m not just “doing this” to make grandma cry. I know I’m lucky in that regard, and it’s simply a quirk of the universe that my dating habits are vanilla enough to be considered normal. But I’m also a giant nerd. I’m also a gamer, and, while it might not cause any concern for grandma, I can safely say I’ve never been in a relationship with a woman that didn’t have something to say about my general inclination to alternate between nights in bed and nights spent in Hyrule. And that’s valid! This is entry #553 on my blog that is almost exclusively about videogames! My name is Goggle Bob, and I have a problem! But issues have always arisen when I was with someone that refused to even tenuously understand that problem. Grandma was happy with my date, but my date wasn’t happy with something that brings me joy. For a long time, I genuinely believed I would never be with someone that would accept me for who I am, inexplicable obsession with Mega Man and all.

What even happened hereAnd then, one day, there was someone that accepted me. There was someone that tried to understand who I was, preoccupation with blue sparks and all. There was someone that wanted me. All of me.

And I never thought such a thing was even possible before.

So, ya know, thanks Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. Really making some positive changes in the trajectory of entire lives there. Blue shells are a major franchise foul, but I guess that can be forgiven for changing my entire outlook on existence.

FGC #553 Mario Kart: Double Dash!!

  • System: Nintendo Gamecube. If you ask me which Nintendo game I would most want to see with a modern release/remix, this would be the one. Well, you know, now that Sunshine already got that treatment.
  • Number of players: Let’s just say four before getting into that whole “chaining Gamecubes together” thing.
  • So did you ever play on a series of linked Gamecubes? Nope. I mean, what, are you kidding? I have a hard enough time gathering four people together to agree on playing one videogame. I’m never going to see that many controllers in use outside of a convention, and I’m pretty sure those are illegal now.
  • I win!So, did you beat it? Wholly and completely, with Mirror Grand Tour and on two player cooperative. That solid gold car is mine, now and forever.
  • Best Team: Daisy and Birdo will always succeed. Wait…. This is supposed to be my “favorite” team? No, that doesn’t sound right. Daisy and Birdo are the best.
  • Favorite Track: I have to admire Baby Park for the raw simplicity of the track, and somehow making a circle (well, technically an oval) fun. It takes some significant level of chutzpah to make a track pretty much nothing, and rely on the basic gameplay of Mario Kart to carry the action. And it works like a charm, so good job all around.
  • Yes, this game was popular: Mario Kart: Double Dash was the second highest selling Gamecube game of all time. Super Smash Bros. Melee was number one. Then it’s Sunshine at numero tres. Sonic Mega Collection was number seventeen. Ya know, just throwing that out there.
  • Did you know? According to internal data, apparently the two “urban” stages, Mushroom Bridge and Mushroom City, were supposed to be dedicated to Koopa Troopa and Paratroopa (respectively). In the final release, those two nerds don’t get their own course, and we’re left assuming that Princess Peach purchased their unclaimed property. The monarchy has a habit of doing that.
  • Would I play again: In a heartbeat. Lord, I love me some Mario Kart: Double Dash. It even makes Garfield titles better! It’s scientifically proven!

What’s next? Recklessly Self-Indulgent Autobiography Week(s) concludes with a look at Pokémon Go. You always knew there was going to be a Pokémon game in this group of articles, and I cannot disappoint! Please look forward to it!

Go go Daisy

FGC #552 Smarty Pants

Let's all look smartI’m a snob, and, until Smarty Pants, I never even realized it.

I do not envy my friends at Christmastime. I am a likeable dude, so, naturally, any and all of my acquaintances know to pay me tribute come the holiday season. However, all is not well for my fan club, as, despite the fact that I have a very obvious, consumer-friendly hobby, I am also a spoiled only child that is used to buying whatever I want, whenever I want. This all means that, effectively, the only way to properly “buy Goggle Bob a videogame” is to either get something videogame adjacent (like a goddamn Final Fantasy funko figure), or go through the cold, mechanical process of confirming that I am not “allowed” to purchase something, and then provide said item on a prearranged date (December 25th works for my calendar). It does guarantee that this lord will receive a tithe that will be enjoyed, but it does kind of suck the fun and surprise out of the exchange when one party is effectively simply working from a pre-approved shopping list. And then if someone goes off script? Whoo boy, look out…

So, despite all these impediments, for Christmas of 2007, my best friend got me a videogame. He confirmed I did not have it in advance by checking out my library. He subtly established, through conversation, that I had no plans on purchasing the game or receiving it as a gift from someone else. He dotted all his I’s and crossed all his T’s, and then purchased, for me, a new Nintendo Wii game. He gifted me Smarty Pants: Trivia Fun for Everyone.

And standing there, unwrapping my brand new videogame present… I had no idea what I was looking at. Smarty Pants? What the hell?

Turns out I was looking at the “it” item of our social circle for the next few years.

Let's quizThere was a time when I was on top of every video game. Or… no… that’s wrong. There was a time I was on top of every Nintendo game, or game released for a Nintendo system, because I subscribed to Nintendo Power, and it outlined every damn game available for its systems shy of some Color Dreams nonsense. So, yes, I might have never seen a copy of Vice: Project Doom when I was a child, but damned if the title Vice: Project Doom isn’t permanently lodged in my brain thanks to some six-page article from the early 90’s (and, yes, I did eventually play the game in my teens, but only thanks to that same article again). For whatever reason, I gradually lost interest in Nintendo Power (that reason was called “the Nintendo 64”), but that was also about when the wonders of the internet made the scene. Ever since, whether it be through Gamefaqs, IGN, or various gaming forums, I have been informed about what’s out there and what games are on the horizon. And that’s important! I consider myself an omnigamer, a connoisseur of videogames of all shapes and sizes. I might not play the latest Call of Duty or Madden, but I’m aware of their existence, and generally lurk around forums and tweets where they are discussed. If something actually interesting happens in that sphere (like a franchise dipping its toes into apparently psychological horror and social commentary)(I’m not talking about Madden), then I can jump on in, and see what all the fuss is about. I might not play every videogame, but I like to be informed on what is happening in that world, and, give or take a dark age sometime around when I discovered dating, that has always been the case.

And I had never heard of Smarty Pants. At all.

Pretty picturesThis may not be a complete surprise, though. After all, this was the heyday of the Nintendo Wii, a system that had been released to much acclaim a mere year earlier. And much of this approbation originated with the simple fact that Wii Sports had somehow made the Nintendo Wii the most “universal” videogame system to come along in a long while. After years of Metal Gears, Final Fantasies, and Grand Theft Autos, it seemed that gaming had looped back around to something you could play with your grandpa. Ultimately, this new “Blue Ocean Gaming” would be short lived on the consoles, as everything but Just Dance gradually migrated over to mobile gaming, but there was a glorious time when Chocobo Dungeon (a spin-off of a 20 year old JRPG franchise featuring a bird participating in a rogue-like) shared shelf space with Wii Fit (a game where you sometimes stand weird). So, yes, if you were more interested in smashing brothers than exploring endless oceans, then a game from the “casual” side of the pond might come as a surprise. You wouldn’t expect to know the premise of every television show currently appearing on Polish cable, so why would you expect to know the ins and outs of every game outside of your usual gaming circle?

But Smarty Pants? Well, it’s weirdly… uh… how to put this… It feels like… bootleg? Like, the whole thing feels like something that should be a franchise, or was intended to be a franchise… or… something? Like, there’s this little lightbulb dude, and he’s wearing jeans, and you can’t tell me he wasn’t designed by committee. Similarly, the whole game here is just… a quiz show? I would completely believe you if you popped into the comments and claimed this was all based on some obscure USA cable jaunt that ran for seven episodes before the host was disgraced by being busted for possession of excess aardvark semen. But, aside from a few weird events that involve jiggling around with a Wiimote, this is just a straight up quiz show format, with “20,000 questions” (box quote) and a “buzz in” motion required for every answer. It is vaguely… perplexing for someone who knows videogames and game shows to play such a game, as the whole experience could be likened to drinking popular soda brand Dr. Bob: you know you like the name, but something seems off about the whole experience.

Excuse me, I misspoke. Something seems off about the whole game. The whole experience is superb.

You can do itThis is a dumb trivia game, but it is constructed extremely well. It is straightforward. It is a format that can be easily grasped by anyone. There are no “special moves”, ridiculous inputs, or even a need to figure out how to “toggle” the control stick. You ring in, point your ‘mote at the (hopefully) right answer, and call it a day. Sometimes the game asks you to dance. And that’s it! It is the same interface you would find on a bar’s trivia tablet (do they still do those things? I mean… aside from bars not being viable in virus times?) It is an extremely simple game, but, thanks to those previously mentioned thousands of questions, you can play it for hours.

And, yes, my friends and I wound up playing my “Christmas present” for literally years. Smarty Pants was a constant companion to my Nintendo Wii, and saw more play than other, more traditionally popular games like Mario Party, Smash Bros. Brawl, or even Wii Sports. All those games were played, of course, but Smarty Pants was what came out when we had a big group (and, in those days, that was pretty often with any number of acquaintances, new beaus, and assorted hangers on). “Casual” and veteran videogame players could all agree that Smarty Pants was a fun time, and it was just as much a staple of our parties as wine and assorted cheeses (… okay, we were in our 20s. It was more like beer and expired Cheetos. But still!).

Winner!And, through it all, through the entire lifespan of the Nintendo Wii (and even some of the Wii U), I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that this was a game that I would have otherwise ignored. This was a game that, given my own tastes, I would have never even yanked out of a discount pile. This was a game that brought me an inordinate amount of joy, and I might have never played it if it was up to my own pretentiousness. In the end, Smarty Pants turned out to be an amazing Christmas gift, and an amazing game all on its own.

Not bad for a lightbulb wearing pants.

FGC #552 Smarty Pants

  • System: Nintendo Wii, and apparently nothing else. It really seems like the kind of game that would be on literally every other system (right down to the PSP… or would it have been Vita at this point?), but just Wii. And I doubt we’re going to see a rerelease…
  • Number of players: Four is the max at one time, though I believe there are some shenanigans for “families” with sharing wiimotes and such. But 4-player head-to-head seems to be the standard.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: My friends often chided me and claimed that, since I owned the game, I would play it at home, alone, to practice and conquer my rivals. You jerks, I’m just good at trivia. I never actually played the single player mode until I had to write this article, because, fun fact, the single player mode apparently sucks. It’s just trivia! That gets boring fast! …. Wait a second.
  • I can get thisFun for all ages: The questions do change according to the average age of the players. Or at least there are a lot more questions about Shrek if you claim to be 12. Of course, the whole thing is based on your registered birth year relative to the release date of the game (2007), so if you’re currently 25, the game will assume you’re a twelve year old.
  • Favorite category: It’s Fashion. I’m not good at the Fashion category, but it feels great when I get any question right in that category, because, come on, I barely understand how pants work. I’m punching way above my weight class anytime I score a point in the Fashion category.
  • Hey, isn’t this just Trivial Pursuit? Shut-up.
  • Get up and dance: The “physical challenge” sections of Smarty Pants are extremely shallow, but always welcome during multiplayer. Having to perform wacky dances for an audience of zero during single player, though, is probably the reason this game reviewed so poorly at release. Nobody ever cared about how dumb you looked playing Guitar Hero alone, people of the early 21st century!
  • Did you know? The fact that the Miis don’t transfer 1:1 from Wii to WiiU is the saddest loss of our generation.
  • Would I play again: Maybe for nostalgia purposes, but probably not, unfortunately. This game dominated my peer group for a long time… but its time has passed. Now we’ve moved on to… Wheel of Fortune? What the hell? Are we old?

What’s next? Recklessly Self-Indulgent Autobiography Week(s) continues with Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, a title that elicits a romantic sigh from yours truly every time it is mentioned. Why? Well, read the article next Monday to find out. Please look forward to it!

CHAMPION!
Winner and still champion